Charmin's Scatological Humor Is a Refreshing Dose of Reality

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Earlier this month a viral film wafted into my inbox like a spring breeze carrying spring-breeze-scented tidings of good things to come. It was an ad for Charmin toilet paper. Agency people typically send to AdCritic only the work of which they are proudest, so, naturally, I don't see many toilet-paper ads in my official capacity. I have, however, seen plenty as a regular old real-life toilet-paper consumer.

This ad, from Publicis, London, is called "A Little Bit Rude" but really isn't at all. It's essentially a series of live-action euphemisms (or poo-phemisms, as the spot's creators called them) for that function which is most associated with bears and woods (and which is indeed represented by a bear in most of Charmin's advertising).

In one scene, for instance, a harried father exits his house laden with recreational gear yelling, "I'm just dropping the kids off at the pool." Scenarios like this are interspersed with quick visual interpretations of better-known phrases -- a hand removing (or taking, one could say) a leek from a grocery display; a thumb and forefinger converging on (or, perhaps, pinching) a rectangular slab (or, if you will, loaf) of bread. See the spot at

Now, I don't believe that bodily-function gags typically represent the apotheosis of creativity, and this ad has its flaws. For example, for a supposed viral, it could have pushed harder, as we've already seen the creative bounds of the internet extend further than those of the thou-shalt-not-offend TV territory. (An accompanying website is more in the spirit of the exercise; it positively wallows in the subject at hand -- with visitors encouraged to submit and vote on their favorite feces-isms. So far, "releasing the chocolate hostages" is among the frontrunners.)

But the reason I viewed this ad as a brown-winged butterfly of good auguries is for the thematic leap it represents -- it's a toilet paper ad that talks about poop (even though it does so by pointedly not talking about poop)! In other words, an ad aimed at human beings. An ad authentic enough to realize that we are not Victorian Englanders.

Such an approach is a byproduct of how brand creativity is changing as consumers take a more active role in it.

For a long time, advertising has existed in its own advertising land with advertising rules that apply to no person outside of advertising. It's a land where fear of tiny fringe groups has dictated what messages and words can be distributed. A land of animated creatures that come with biblical tomes governing appropriate facial expressions, a land of blue fluids and fake doctors and real CEOs who really just run big family businesses that care about other families.

But that world is falling apart. When actual humans (consumers) are, bidden or unbidden, creating brand information and messages that appeal to other actual humans (consumers), those in advertising land must rethink their approach. There's a reason that consumer-generated content and the random films you've seen made by civilians on behalf of (or spoofing) brands are often so compelling: They haven't had the edges sanded off.

They are made by people who are motivated by human emotions -- passion, greed or just the desire to be seen in an unfathomable sea of digital matter -- not by some preordained rules of selling and measuring. Whether your message is created using the power of the real people or the power of your ad people, or both, and whether you deal in tissue or sheet metal, you'd do well to remember that everyone poops.

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Teressa Iezzi is the editor of Creativity magazine and E-mail your big ideas to her at
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